India kept their best for last as a hard-fought 35-run in Wellington completed a 4-1 ODI series win in New Zealand, to go with the ODI series win in Australia.
It has been a stupendously successful tour of the Antipodes with Virat Kohli’s India gaining new strength in the Test and ODI arena.
India have managed to keep their Test and 50-over World Cup ambitions separate and perform at the best level in both formats.
The win in the fifth ODI against the Kiwis was particularly pleasing for India as it was managed despite the men in blue being reduced to 18-4 and without Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah in the team.
Here we take a look at the positives for India from the New Zealand ODI series win.
SHAMI THE NO.2 PACER
Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were long seen as automatic pace bowling selections for India’s first-choice ODI team. While Bumrah is clearly the leader of the bowling attack, a back injury hampered Bhuvi’s cricket in 2018 and he is only just getting back to his best.
In that period, Mohammed Shami has taken his game to a new level. Displaying excellent fitness levels, Shami was the standout performer in the Australia Test series which earned him a surprise call to the ODI team.
India cricket had almost forgotten that Shami was the star bowler for them at the 2015 World Cup. While India was looking for a back-up bowler to Bumrah and Bhuvi, they have re-discovered a first-choice bowler who can replace Bhuvneshwar on any given day. His pace, lengths and swing make Shami a more lethal option that Bhuvi on flatter decks and will give Kohli a great selection headache.
There was never any doubt about the impact all-rounder Hardik Pandya has on the balance of any Indian team. His seam bowling and supercharged late-order hitting make him an almost indispensable member of the team.
However, following his serious back injury sustained during the Asia Cup in the UAE last September and subsequent brain fade during an ill-planned TV show, question marks were placed over the state of his body and mind.
The Indian team, however, needed their star all-rounder in the dressing room. After his suspension was suspended (yup), he walked right back into the team. In the third ODI against New Zealand, Pandya bowled his full quota of 10 overs and picked up two wickets. In the fifth ODI, he snared two in eight.
With the bat, he was arguably the deciding factor as his 22-ball 45 helped India post 252 and eke out a 35-run win in Wellington. If Pandya remains fit, Kohli will breathe easy.
RAYUDU IS THE MAN
Last year, Kohli made it clear Ambati Rayudu was the player the team backed at the number four position going into the World Cup run-in. That was not the most popular move and after a few indifferent outings, time started to run out for India to find a permanent solution to the problem.
The emergence of young Rishabh Pant in Test cricket made many wonder whether it would be better to have veteran keeper MS Dhoni bat at number four – as suggested by vice-captain Rohit Sharma himself – and have an in-form hard-hitter like Pant in the lower order.
But a couple of match-winning 40s in New Zealand and a career defining 90 in Wellington have silenced all critics – including me – about his suitability at the No4 slot for now. With India 18-4, Rayudu curbed his natural instincts, played out over after over and even when he was 35 from 70 balls after 29 overs, didn’t lose focus or shape.
Rayudu timed his acceleration perfectly and the hard runs he made against a class Kiwi attack in demanding conditions should add that extra punch to his strokes during the home ODI series against Australia at the end of the month and later at the World Cup.
India stand-in captain Rohit Sharma said the form shown by Ambati Rayudu in New Zealand is a great sign for the team and expected the middle order batsman to strengthen his position at the number four position in the home series against Australia.
Rayudu rescued the Indian team from a precarious 18-4 in the fifth ODI in Wellington with a fighting 90 in seaming conditions. His knock helped the visitors post 252 which proved to be a winning total as India secured a 4-1 series win.
Rayudu ended any debate – for now – about the problematic No4 position with a couple of 40s in the Mount Maunganui ODIs as well.
Rohit was understandably pleased with Rayudu’s batting.
“Massive confidence for him to bat in a situation like that when the team is down, 20 for 4, and you’ve got to bail the team out of that situation. He’s played a lot of cricket and used his experience, which is a massive boost for him going forward,” Rohit said after the win on Sunday.
“He batted and finished off games in Tauranga when we played there, stitched a good partnership with MS [Dhoni] and then Dinesh Karthik. So yeah, he’s looking very good. I just want him to continue. We’ve got five more games against Australia as well, back home, so if he bats the way he batted in this series, it will be good for us.”
India play two T20s and five ODIs against Australia starting at the end of this month.
India produced a brilliant fightback to win the fifth and final ODI against New Zealand by 35 runs and wrap up an emphatic 4-1 series victory.
Ambati Rayudu’s battling 90 and a cameo from Hardik Pandya helped India recover from a precarious position of 18/4 to set a target of 253.
In response, the hosts got off to a poor start thanks to disciplined bowling from India’s new-ball bowlers, with Mohammed Shami, back in the side in place of Khaleel Ahmed after a one-match rest, picking up openers Henry Nicholls and Colin Munro, who came back into the XI for the injured Martin Guptill but couldn’t turn around a dismal series. Pandya then came in and got the dangerous Ross Taylor for just one.
A 69-run partnership for the fourth wicket between Kane Williamson and Tom Latham helped steady the New Zealand innings, but then India’s spinners came to the fore.
Kedar Jadhav displayed his knack for picking up crucial wickets yet again, getting Williamson to hole out looking for a big shot, before Yuzvendra Chahal picked up Latham and Colin de Grandhomme in quick succession.
Jimmy Neesham briefly raised hopes of a victory with a cameo to match Pandya’s, but an inexplicable run-out cut short his innings just as he was threatening to take the game away from India, before Chahal, Pandya, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar closed out the innings.
Earlier, Rayudu’s battling innings helped India recover after a second straight top-order collapse from India, with Trent Boult and Matt Henry picking up two wickets each to leave India in dire straits at 18/4 after Rohit Sharma had won the toss and elected to bat.
Boult picked up the wickets of Shikhar Dhawan and MS Dhoni, back in the side after missing the last two games, and ended with figures of 3/39, while Henry starred to take 4/35, including the early wickets of Sharma and Shubman Gill, whose tough initiation to international cricket continued.
Rayudu stitched together a vital 98-run partnership with Vijay Shankar, and though he was responsible for the latter being run out just short of a maiden 50 in his first ODI innings, the partnership had stabilised India, allowing Rayudu to consolidate with Jadhav and setting up Pandya for a late-overs blast. Pandya’s 45 off 22 gave India a defendable total, and the bowlers did the rest.